It is inevitable, I suppose, that as we get older, memories of Christmas past tend to merge, until one ends up with something vaguely resembling a generic memory. But Christmas 2012 was so different in so many ways that it will probably stand out. For a start, I've never spent December in a whirl of rehearsals and performances, while trying to juggle end-of-year accounts, work, dog care, Christmas preparations and all the routine domestic stuff that has to be done. Not to mention the dead Aga, which I just have. And no, it was not rescued in time for the Great Midwinter Feast. By Christmas Day I was running on empty.
Meanwhile, the Grown-Up Children were installed half a mile away at an organic smallholding owned by family friends, caring for the livestock (rare breed pigs and sheep, plus a dozen hens) while the Smallholders were away for a couple of days. The intention had been that they would head up here for meals and general Christmas jollity. Another family friend and one of her relations, whom none of us had met before, were expected on Christmas Day to join us for dinner. . .
The Smallholders came to the rescue and offered us the use of their large farmhouse kitchen, while they were away, which did indeed save the day. The Great Midwinter Feast was prepared, served and enjoyed, although we spent the last hours of Christmas night returning everything in the borrowed kitchen to pristine condition.
The Grown-Up Children returned to the Chilterns a few days later and before I knew it, New Year's Eve was upon us and my Salad Days Friend arrived with her husband and their two new rescue lurchers - Queenie and Duke. The Edinburgh Boy and Miss P, pictured here
were much taken with their new friends; the youngsters racing around the field, while the the now elderly Boy looked on contentedly. Come the evening, cue another feast, this time Indian and vegetarian, with the evening devoted to music, comparing choir notes - they sing with Sammy Hurden's Freedance Choir - and discussing Buddhism. After almost 40 years of friendship, our lives still run on parallel lines.
Their choir recently took part in Sammy's specially commissioned work The Hare and the Harp (sponsored by Johnnie Boden; yes that Boden) at Dorset's ancient Powerstock Church. You can catch it on YouTube here - a marvellously sonorous, deeply English piece that seemed to reach back through the ages, while still sounding entirely new.
We all agreed that once you start making music - playing an instrument, singing - you begin to listen to music in a different way. And you begin to appreciate types of music that, at one time perhaps, you might not have been drawn to. Take The Student Prince, for example. Operetta. Hmm. Film starring Edmund Purdom, his voice dubbed by Mario Lanza. Hmm. We were once forced to watch this at my convent school; it was deemed suitable viewing for Sixties girls.
But this Christmas the BBC kindly reran the enormously popular Proms concerts given by the John Wilson Orchestra in 2011 and 2012. John Wilson has probably done much as anyone to make people sit up and take notice of musicals, with his superb orchestrations of classic Hollywood and Broadway showstoppers. I confess that, in the past, I have had a patchy relationship with musicals; I loved Rodgers and Hammerstein, West Side Story and anything with Fred Astaire but not much more. The list certainly didn't include The Student Prince. And then I watched the 2011 Proms concert in which tenor Charles Castronovo performed Serenade. I played this clip for my friends on New Year's Eve; in the 1970s, we would have been listening to Bowie together, or Dylan or Joni and we listen to them and love them still. But this song, this performance, had us spellbound.